a short story
by Mark Wildyr
by Mark Wildyr
AUGURY: (o´gye re) n. – The art or practice of divination from omens or signs (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary)
I first saw him on a street corner as I left my attorney’s office on a muggy August day while New Mexico’s monsoon season threatened to cut loose at any moment. I don’t know why I noticed him as I was totally wrapped up in discovering changes in my hometown after a long absence. Maybe it was the way he held motionless while humanity washed around him. Or perhaps it was because he was observing me across the broad intersection.
Although I’m a reasonably attractive and fit thirty-five-year old WASP, handsome strangers do not often stand and stare at me with such intensity. He was too far away to discern his features clearly, but I knew he was young and handsome with the same certainty I knew I was the object of his interest. That he was well put together was obvious even from this distance.
Intrigued, I stepped to the intersection. When the traffic light changed in my favor, I fought my way through the downtown noontime rush of attorneys, bankers, and government workers, all of whom chose that moment to cross Central Avenue. When I reached the far curb, he was gone. Vanished. Poof. Unreasonably frustrated, I looked up and down both West Central and Third Street. There was no dark, mysterious figure. How could he have disappeared so quickly? Mentally shrugging, I reversed course and hurried off to lunch at Eulelia’s in the historic La Posada Hotel.
“John, you old Hoar.” I automatically fell into the teasing ways of our brief affair before I left for graduate school at Columbia University thirteen years ago. To be honest, I felt a flicker of interest, the first in some time.
“Teo, Teo.” He reverted to style as well, using the initials for Theodore Ellis Oxley. In fact, that’s the way most people knew me, thanks to him. “God, it’s good to see you. How long has it been?”
Ten…twelve years, I guess. I hear you’re a successful real estate developer now.”
“Developer, yes. Successful? That depends on the month. The day. The hour. It’s a demanding business.”
“I see you’ve come back from restoring the Sistine Chapel.”
I sat opposite him and accepted a menu from the waiter. “Assisi, not Rome,” I replied. “Worked with the team restoring the St. Francis frescoes damaged by the earthquake. Learned a lot, especially about computer restoration.”
“Is it completed now?”
“Oh, no! It’s a long, slow process. It’ll take years yet. Although the computer program they’re using to position broken pieces has cut that time in half. It’s ingenious.”
“How long were you there?”
“A bit over a year. Then I was at the Duomo in Florence for a while. That’s where I got the call.”
“The San Pedro Mission in Alma Pura.” John nodded, looking like the frog that ate the dragonfly.
“I thought you might have something to do with that.” I smiled at the attractive man opposite me. “You wouldn’t be on the board of the Hixton Trust by any chance, would you?”
“Now I know how the name of an obscure art restorer came up in the discussion of some old frescoes in northern New Mexico.”
John took a sip of water and held his tongue until we ordered. “It didn’t come up casually, old son. I checked you up and down and backwards and forwards. You’ve been investigated, my friend. Seriously investigated. And you measured up. You’re a good, competent art restorer specializing in murals and frescoes, as well as a native son. You’ve built a solid reputation, Teo. I wouldn’t have proposed you solely on the basis of friendship...or past relationship. This is too important to the Trust and to the people in the area.”
“I appreciate that. And thanks for the vote of confidence. Have you seen the frescoes recently?”
“Yes. A few of us made the rounds of all the projects. The Hixton Trust is financing the repair of approximately a dozen artworks in danger of being lost. Some are in churches; some are not. One is a mural in a former bank building right in this town.”
I nodded. “The old Albuquerque National headquarters.” The building was a block from where we sat.
“Right. But wherever they are, they’re a part of our past.” He grinned impishly, one of the few forty-year-olds of my acquaintance capable of doing so. “But I made sure you got the challenge of the lot.”
“How bad are they?”
“Pretty sorry shape, I’m afraid.”
“Natural or forced?”
“Is the decay from age and neglect, or has there been some other cause, like an earthquake or a crumbling structure?”
“I’d guess neglect and age, but there are some cracks that may come from a four hundred-year-old building simply getting tired and sagging a little. Although it’s difficult to imagine four-foot walls sagging.”
“Settling,” I corrected. “Well, I’m anxious to get to work. I just signed the contract at my attorney’s office. You do realize it’s going to take some time, don’t you? More importantly, do the authorities on the site, the priests, realize it?”
“They’re likely inured by now. The mission recently underwent a structural restoration, but they didn’t touch the artwork. The Santos and the old crucifix have been removed and taken to a wood restorer. There's one main fresco of St Peter on the wall behind the altar, and a smaller one of the Patron Saint in the narthex. That one will be more difficult because it’s so damned busy. It’s got a whole host of figures, some you can hardly make out.”
“Have there been problems with the work?” I asked.
John immediately understood I was talking about interference. “No. Have you ever visited the mission?”
“Not since I was a teenager.”
“Well, it’s not staffed permanently. They hire a local man to see to the daily tasks such as locking and unlocking the place, cleaning up, and the like. A priest, Father Hidalgo, travels weekly from the cathedral in Santa Fe to say mass and conduct any other rites that are required. They’ve suspended all services during the restoration.”
“I see. So the only one likely to be breathing down my neck is the caretaker?”
“Probably not even him. He’s a young fellow. Lives at the Teuano Pueblo and drives in every day.”
“Yes. Most of the congregation—and to call it a congregation is a stretch—are Indians, mixed-bloods, and the Spanish in the area.”
“And the trust is spending a lot of money to restore the place?”
John frowned. “It’s just the thing old Charlie Hixton had in mind when he set up the trust. He always said big, well-known pieces of art will be taken care of. It was the lesser known works that needed his help. Besides, the mission is an important piece of northern New Mexico ’s heritage, Teo. It deserves to be rescued.”
I held up a protesting hand. “You don’t need to convince me. I believe all art merits salvation.”
Our orders were delivered, and I caught up on this dear friend’s life while we ate. John lived openly with his significant other, a man whom I did not know. Despite his protestations, he was one of the more successful developers in the city. He had a hand in most of the major renovations in the downtown area. Of course, he soon discovered I was alone, prompting a review of mutual acquaintances—who was available and who was not. He didn’t quite buy the claim I had time for nothing but work. He was also a little put out that I could not provide risque tales of studly young Italians I’d seduced.
“You’re not claiming to be celibate?” he asked suspiciously. “You haven’t converted and become a priest, have you?”
I laughed uneasily. Knowing John, he wouldn’t quit until it came out. “Converted? No. Neither in faith nor in orientation. Celibate? That pretty well describes my life for the past couple of years.”
“Why?” he asked in his blunt manner.
“Long story. Not sure I’m up to telling it yet.” I put up a final, half-hearted resistance.
“Nonsense. Surely a man of letters like you knows confession is good for the soul. At any rate, I need something to fill my busy afternoon.”
We left the dining room and found a couple of comfortable chairs in the magnificent, rustic lobby that magically transports a person a hundred years back in time. After we snagged a couple of drinks, I started down a painful road.
“I was with someone for three years, John. A wonderful man with similar interests and a hyper, quirky sense of humor. We complimented one another perfectly. Don’t know why, because he was as macho as I am, but it worked. Our biggest trouble was fighting off women when we went anywhere together.” I swallowed hard at the memory. “Leo...his name was Leonard...was an art historian.”
“Leo and Teo? That pretty neat,” he interjected.
I didn’t react; I’d commenced and needed to finish. “We were at Columbia together, but were just friends for the first couple of years. Got together almost by accident, but when we did, it was everything it was supposed to be. All the bells and whistles. Everything from knockdown drag-outs to long peaceful moments of enjoying one another to the most perfect lovemaking imaginable.
“Too good to last, I guess, because he got mugged in Washington Square one afternoon by three goons. Being the man he was, he took them on. Mistake. Ended up in the hospital. They did all kinds of tests and assured us he was mending well. For a few weeks he complained of occasional headaches and a lack of energy. Then one day he didn’t get out of bed. I don’t know how long I slept beside him after he died.” My voice broke. “He was clasping my arm when I woke.” Blinking rapidly, I took a swallow of the drink, choking on the liquor.
“Jesus, Teo, I’m sorry.”
“I went nuts, John. After I buried him, I went stark raving mad. I retained just enough sense to realize if I turned to liquor, I’d never crawl out of the bottle. So I started fucking instead. I’m amazed I’m not dead of AIDS or some other STD. I screwed everything that moved! Got a hell of a reputation...of another sort. It all came to a head one night when two other libertines and I decided to hire some call boys, you know, young studs. I ended up with a novice, a kid from Wyoming who didn’t know what he was getting into. He was seduced by the money and got talked into it by a buddy who was a pro.”
I dropped my head before his gaze. “Damn, what I did to that kid. He’d probably had a blow job before, maybe even given a few, but that’s about all. I fucked him all night long. By morning, the guy was used up. The look in his eyes when I paid him probably saved me. He was hurt—not physically, but deep down where he lived. I likely put the nail in his coffin when I gave him a thousand dollars out of pure guilt. I suffered for that, John. I tried to get in touch with him a couple of time to apologize, maybe mentor him. Hell, who knows? But he was gone. Left town. It bothered me so much I went to a clinic, got tested, and haven’t touched anyone since. I left for Italy shortly after that and figured I’d be lured out of it by those hot Italians, but I wasn’t even tempted.”
“Be damned,” was all John could come up with. “Have you continued to be tested?”
“Yeah.” I nodded. “Went to a hospital every three months for two years. Everything’s clear.”
“Don’t know what to say, Teo. You were lucky. Doesn’t even sound like you. You were so damned careful when we were together. A regular pain in the ass about it, as I recall.” He chuckled at the double entendre.
“I wasn’t kidding, John. I went crazy!”
He inspected me carefully. “Doesn’t show. You still look as fresh and unsullied as the day I met you. Damn, you’re a handsome fellow.”
I gave a grudging grin. “You’re taken, so cut out the crap.” I turned back to business. “Where will I stay while I’m working up there? As I recall Alma Pura is sort of remote. In the mountains, right?”
“Right. Actually, the church is outside of town a few miles. There’s a small, run down adobe a couple of hundred yards from the mission. You’re welcome to use it during the project. Don’t know how suitable it will be, but it’s yours if you want it.”
“Great. I don’t care what kind of shape it’s in, I’ll take it. The job will involve some equipment, and that will save a lot of trouble hauling it back and forth.”
“I had them leave the scaffolding from the structural work,” John added. “It’s lightweight metal, portable. And I had them deliver a gasoline generator, two, in fact. One for the church and one for the shack.”
“Do I need camping gear?”
“A fart sack might not hurt, but there’s a bed and some broken down furniture. It gets cold at night up in those mountains. I don’t know if you remember, but August is the rainy season up there.”
“Yes, and the humidity will be a problem. But the diagnosis will take a lot of time, so the rains will likely be over before that’s finished.”
“Featherbedding already? Remember it’s a fixed price deal.”
I laughed as John’s practical side surfaced. “Yeah, but this is slow work, my friend. There’s an old saying. People without the patience to do art restoration take up searching haystacks for needles to make a living.”
John rolled his eyes. “Oh, man. Well, I’m going back to real estate development work and leave this artsy-fartsy stuff to you.” He hesitated before rising. “Tell me something. Do you guys really use bread to clean old paintings?”
I smiled. “Sourdough is best. You knead it into a ball, roll it against the surface, and it lifts dirt right off. Have to be sure to remove all the bread, or you’ll attract insects.”
Refusing his offer of a ride the few blocks to where my car was parked, I left La Posada by the Second Street exit and turned south. I was grinning with pleasure at seeing my old lover again when I suddenly halted and looked behind me. A man in black waited across the Tijeras intersection half a block away. Eerily motionless, he was peering intently in my direction. No...at me.
I made a snap decision and walked straight to the intersection. The figure stirred uneasily. A city bus almost clobbered me as I attempted to cross against the light. Jumping back onto the curb, I impatiently let it pass before dashing across the street.
There was no one there.
The first big raindrops of the monsoon season pelted my head and shoulders as I stood mystified on the empty corner. It made no sense. There was an unimpeded view for a solid block in every direction, and no convenient doorway into which he could have slipped. So where was he? The fucker was there two seconds ago. Had a car picked him up and whisked him away? Had there been a vehicle at the curb? Maybe there was, but if he didn’t want to confront me, why the hell was he watching me? A chill independent of the soaking I was suffering gripped my entire body.
I encountered no mystifying wraiths over the next few days as I looked up old acquaintances and assembled the equipment I needed for my trip north. On a thunderous Sunday afternoon I loaded everything into a leased Toyota four-by-four and drove up I-25 through intermittent rainstorms. I stopped by the cathedral in Santa Fe to pick up a key to the old mission church that was my destination, dined in one of the City Different’s excellent restaurants, and then drove the remaining forty miles to the mountain community of Alma Pura, a village that Richard Bradford could have been describing in his hilarious and touching, Red Sky at Morning, although the film based on his novel had picked Truchas which lay several mountain peaks distant.
There was nothing to the rustic hamlet except for a dilapidated general store, a cafe, a farm and ranch supply house, and, of course, the ubiquitous corner garage and filling station, except there was no corner. Or traffic light. Or even a stop sign. Pausing only to top off the gas tank, fill up a couple of Jerry cans with fuel and water, and ask directions, I headed up a narrow mountain track east of the village as quickly as the weather and road conditions permitted in order to arrive at the Misíon del San Pedro de las Lomas before darkness fell.
The little church might have been called St. Peter of the Hills, but it was located in a small valley smack dab in the middle of mountains. The rain that pestered me virtually all the way, ceased as I entered the little glen. My first view of the mission in twenty years was through a wispy fog in rapidly failing light.
Although this House of God was small as such structures go, it loomed large above the Toyota as I sloshed to a halt before it. The color of mother earth with two stubby campaniles that had never seen bells, it could have been a monolithic, cross-crowned boulder hurled from a long-forgotten volcano. It looked half-natural, half-man made, as if some gargantuan Michelangelo had abandoned an unfinished masterpiece. A Campo Santo spread out to the side and curled around behind the building. Obviously ancient, the cemetery appeared well-tended.
The only other structure in the valley was a small adobe shack not far to the west of the church. With sinking heart, I realized this was my home for the next few months. Ignoring the damp chill of the rain-soaked mountains, I set to work making my quarters habitable. Thank God for John Hoar’s gasoline generator. It was the only thing that made the place livable, providing heat as well as light. Before I moved a single piece of equipment, I swept and dusted the place thoroughly. When I finally went for my personal luggage after everything else was put in its place, I froze with the car door half open. The rain had started again, gently plastering my hair against my skull. My flesh puckered. A chill swept down my back.
Frantically, my eyes roved back and forth. Someone, something was there. There by the church. In the deep recess sheltering dark, crudely-carved doors. A shadow. A black shadow. The Indian caretaker?
“Who’s there?” My shout echoed hollowly through the sodden twilight. “I’m here for the restoration,” I called foolishly, my voice falling away at the end.
The thing stood mute. Motionless. Could it be a mere shadow? Grabbing a heavy flashlight out of the glove box, I walked slowly around the car, my eyes never leaving the dark outline. If the thing was going to disappear, this time I was damned well going to see it. I covered fifty yards. A hundred. Nothing changed, except the outline of the shadow grew clearer. Fifty yards from the church, my nerve failed. I stood in the rain, water rolling off my shoulders, trembling from cold and fear. As I watched, the shadow edged out of the recessed doorway and slipped around the corner of the building. Its flight released me from my paralysis.
“Hey!” I yelped, my voice reverberating eerily off the hillside. “Come back here. Are you the caretaker? Hey, I need some help here.”
I knew before reaching the corner he would be gone. I was right. There was nothing there. No thing and no one. Spinning awkwardly in the mud, I splashed back to the adobe, my soaked back tingling with an apprehension that refused to leave even after I closed the thick wooden door to the shack behind me.
Despite my eagerness to examine the frescoes, I lost the desire to visit the mission church that night, telling myself it would be better to wait until morning when there would be natural light. What a load of bullshit. The building had small clerestory windows that admitted little sunlight, It would be dark and gloomy, no matter what time of day or night.. During services, the mission would be close with the scent of a hundred burning candles and human bodies.
I fixed something to eat and retired. Foregoing the sleeping bag as something I could not exit in a hurry, I opened it up and made a heavy comforter out of the thing. As I lay waiting for sleep to claim me, I reviewed what I knew of northern New Mexico.
The most Spanish—as opposed to Mexican—part of the state, it bore a reputation as clannish and closed. This was the land of machismo and mirasoles, palo altos and moradas, the very heart of Los Hermanos de Luz, the Brotherhood of Light, New Mexico ’s secretive Penitenties. For all I knew, San Pedro de las Lomas was a chapter house for these flagellants with a passion for Christ’s Agony.
The sect was not just the stuff of colonial legend; it existed today. Would they welcome a chestnut-haired, hazel-eyed, homosexual, Anglo-Saxon protestant in their midst? Probably not. Would they act on their prejudices? Probably not. But who knows? I certainly didn’t. I grew distinctly uncomfortable in my new environment before a restless sleep came for me.
Stealing in on the night, the specter crossed unknown dimensions to take advantage of my slumber and claim my unconscious. The Stygian presence roiled the swirling mists of my dream. Cold, prickling fear drew me halfway out of my sleep, but my tormentor remained subliminal, insubstantial, permitting only swift, fragmentary glimpses of himself. Dark, sharply planed features. Midnight black hair leaking from a rough, brown cowl. Bottomless eyes as dark as the pit. I cowed before him, lying naked except for my briefs. My nose stung with the hint of something in the air. Despite my terror I became hopelessly aroused by the varón. How did I know he was a man in his prime? My cock knew; it strained to escape its cotton sheath in an erection surpassing any I’d achieved in two long, dry years. My ethereal visitor took on substance as he sought to commune, but the dream Theodore Oxley, the pitiful, excessively stimulated creature shivering at his feet, gradually put aside his terror and surrendered to the overwhelming sexual excitement that suffused the dream.
I shifted, fearing to move, but needing contact. The shadow that was not a shadow threw back the cowl covering his head, revealing long ebony locks. The shimmering face steadied and took on form, drawing my breath from me. My sigh echoed through the dream. “Beauty.” Beyond handsome, beyond comely, but an abject beauty never before beheld.
Yielding to a long denied, pent-up, suffocating desire, I timorously reached for him, but he escaped my grasp, losing some of his definition. I did not care. I callously masturbated while he watched, the expression on his face neither revulsion nor desire. As I spilled my seed, he faded from the dream, his disappearance rekindling a vague sense of fear as I realized he had failed to make the reason for his presence known. He would return.
I woke to a sticky wetness and found my belly awash in a sea of cum. Much of it had slid down my sides to soak the mattress beneath me. I lay as I was, suffering the discomfort, afraid that to move was to lose the last vestiges of the dream. Able to reconstruct only bits and pieces, I finally rose and scrubbed my person and my bed clean of the mess. Then I slept deeply for what remained of the night, untroubled by whatever lurked out there and in the fringes of my mind.
Daylight filtering through thick, fast-moving clouds dispelled little of the old mission’s mysterious atmosphere. The damp morning virtually cried out for an Alba, that sweet, haunting Spanish paean to the Virgin raised by chanting voices of padres and Indian neophytes. But the hulking church remained silent, its adobe exterior slightly out of true, its walls sloping inward as they rose. The only adornments were a simple cross at its apex and a rude cinquefoil above the flat, segmented arch of the entryway. A fresh, earth-brown wash covered the building, effectively concealing any work the architectural renovators might have performed, at least on the outside. The doors, less crudely carved than I’d imagined last night, portrayed events in the life of the Saint. The world was totally silent when I turned the big key in the old lock. Just as I moved into the narthex, a single squirrel set up a noisy chatter in the nearby woods.
The first fresco, the busy one, spanned the wall above the entry to the nave. As I inspected the mural by the half-light of the open main doors, I was dismayed by its condition. Faded colors I had expected, but a leak in the ceiling had allowed water to stain the plaster and bleed the paint. Even in the gloom, I spotted a large crack running diagonally across the piece.
I passed through the narthex into the sanctuary, a large, open chamber bare of pews or furnishings of any sort. Low-ceilinged aisles on either side held the Twelve Stations of the Cross in carved sandstone. The large mural behind the altar above the open chancel was arresting even in the dim, musty light despite its state of decay. The Saint, Catholicism’s first Pope and my denomination’s Rock, surveyed his New World converts through the large, liquid eyes of an Indian. This was not Italian Renaissance art; but was painted in the flat style we now term Primitive, art that relies on the clever use of color to bring the painting to life. Zia sun rays haloed the Sainted One, who was surrounded by the cloud and rain and rainbow symbols of his Native faithful. Even faded and cracked and in need of help, the fresco was awesome, a worthy challenge.
While I was inspecting the disassembled, stacked scaffolding, my back suddenly puckered. Turning, I beheld a black figure at the far end of the nave. Obscured by gloom, silent and foreboding, he struck me dumb. The specter moved forward in a curious gliding motion. He had covered half the cavernous room before I discerned the illusion was caused by the swaying of a cassock. The form genuflected before the altar and then stood to face me, taking on the features of a handsome, hawkish, Hispanic man with an air of authority. I judged him to be about my own age.
“You must be the art restorer,” he said in a voice that would carry well throughout a church much larger than this one.
I closed my mouth with a snap, realizing this was not my stalker from Albuquerque. Nor was he the material manifestation of my dream habitue. Or...was he? Had I masturbated last night in the presence of a priest? A wave of shame swept me as I replied.
“Ted Oxley, at your service. I was taking my first look at the job.” I instantly regretted my choice of words as demeaning.
Dark, fanatical eyes scanned the mural above us. “Father Hidalgo,” he said absently. “I have the privilege of serving this mission.” The deep-set gaze moved to me. “Are
“Not of the Faith,” I replied carefully. “But I have a deep respect for the Faith. I spent the last two years at Assisi and the Florentine Duomo.”
“I see,” the man breathed. It was impossible to fathom his attitude toward me, but his next words betrayed distaste for his forced reliance on a mere mortal. “Can you save it?”
“Yes. I can restore the frescoes.”
“You have a holy task. I trust you will measure up to it.” Abruptly, he turned and made his way to a door that exited the chancel. He paused. “Rodrigo will help. You may consider him your servant in this matter.”
“Rodrigo. Is he the caretaker?”
“Yes,” the priest nodded and spread his hands, an unconscious gesture that was oddly sexual. “He will be here later this morning. He can assist with the scaffolding.”
“Thank you. I’m sure he’ll be a big help.” But I was speaking to an empty doorway. The strange, sensual cleric had moved out of sight. Shaken, I shook my head to clear it. Was I lusting after a priest now? Maybe he was my vision.
Turning back to the painting, I noticed the retablo, which normally rests behind the altar, was missing. Likely it was an elaborate wooden carving that had been taken with the crucifix and the Santos.
Too bad. I would have liked a shot at restoring those, as well.
I had erected a skeleton scaffold before the main fresco and was teetering at ceiling height to take the last in a series of photographs when I heard a noise below. Startled, I almost fell. I clutched an unsteady upright for support and glanced down. When viewed from this perspective, the church did not appear so small. A child stood before the altar gazing up at me.
“Hi!” I said as brightly as my lurching heart would permit. “I’m finished with my picture taking. Be right down.” Why it was necessary to explain this to a boy, I wasn’t certain. When I reached the stone floor, I discovered it was no child standing there, but a young man. A young Indian. A handsome, young Indian. Recovering, I held out a hand.
“You must be Rodrigo,” I said. “I’m Teo Oxley.”
The youth extended a slender, muscled arm and accepted my hand, allowing me to do all the gripping. “Meet you,” he whispered in a throaty voice. I gathered there had been a “Glad to” in there somewhere.
“I’m the restorer. You can call me Teo. Father Hidalgo said you’d be willing to help me from time to time?” It came out as a question more than a statement.
The dark head bobbed once. The young man seemed painfully shy around strangers, at least around this one. He dropped his huge brown eyes before my curious examination. Here was another who could have populated my dream, although my impression of the mysterious watcher was of a taller man. Rodrigo was short, like many of the Pueblo Indians of my experience, but his five-seven frame was packed with muscle. Red-brown skin, fleshy nose, a face broader than the priest’s. Features put together in an earthy, handsome way. He must have been around twenty, yet he radiated the aura of an adolescent. But there was nothing childlike about his build. Wide shoulders fell away to a ridiculously narrow waist and trim hips. I was stirred by his presence.
“Would you like to help and learn a little about caring for the frescoes?” I asked the question more to break the silence than for any other reason.
He raised his gaze to meet mine briefly before his eyes slid away to the side. This youth’s soul wept from his eyes! If he ever actually looked at me, I stood in danger of losing control. No one had made such an impact on me in a long time...except possibly the priest. I began to perceive the Misíon del San Pedro de las Lomas as a dangerous place!
“Yes,” the youth answered quietly. His Adam’s apple bobbed with his words. “I would like to be able to take care of El Señor.” It surprised me that he spoke of the Saint as he would the Lord Jesus.
I fought to shake the lusty image of this youth forming in my mind. And in a church yet. Fortunately, it is a cultural trait for these people to avoid staring directly at another person, or he would have read the lascivious thoughts painted across my features.
“Well, you can start by helping me take down this scaffold and reassemble it. I don’t think I did it right the first time. Too rickety.”
Rodrigo scampered up the shaky structure, further inflaming me with a good view of his exciting backside. It took almost an hour, but we tore down and reassembled the thing so that it was much more secure. It would serve my purposes nicely.
The youth hovered at my side on the scaffold as I set about examining the mural in detail. I prattled constantly, probably out of nervousness over his disturbing presence.
“This is going to take a little time, Rodrigo. It’s slow, painstaking work. Actually, it’s four jobs. First you have to diagnose the situation. Find out what the problems are, like what caused those cracks, for instance. And how deep do they go. Do they radiate? What materials were used to create the work? How was the paint made? It was ground up, you know, from natural ingredients. And then it was applied right onto the wet plaster. That’s the difference between a mural and a fresco. Anyway, I have to determine things like that.”
I took a breath as I continued to scan the Saint’s face up close. “And then there’s the job of cleaning. Removing centuries of accumulated dirt and smoke can be tricky. This painting should have been cleaned every generation or so. What’s a generation? Twenty years? That means St Peter should have taken a bath twenty times since he was created. Probably hasn’t been cleaned once.”
The silent young man conducted his own inspection, obviously thrilled to be so close to his Saint. I went on pontificating.
“The third step is to repair the mural. Correct any damage, fill the holes, mend the cracks without losing any more of the original work than necessary. And then comes the biggie...the retouching. That’s what takes the longest. We’ll actually recreate the fresco using paints and colors as close to the original as possible.” I glanced at the young man at my side, taking a moment to appreciate the way his clothing hugged his form. Nice.
“Do you know anything about painting, Rodrigo?”
He shrugged before answering. “I do some pictures. You know, draw them. Paint them.”
“You ever painted old St. Peter?” I made it a jocular question, but he took it seriously.
“Yeah,” he replied, flushing a shade darker. “Once or twice.”
“May I see them?”
His eyes flickered over me and then returned to the face of San Pedro. “Maybe. Someday.”
I almost laughed at his endearing shyness. “I’d like to see them, Rodrigo. Really.”
“Dunno. You’re a real painter. I’m not. They say you painted for the Holy Father in Rome.”
I did laugh then. “No, but I helped restore St Francis of Assisi and did some work on the Zucarri frescoes at the Duomo in Florence.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him swallow a host of questions. But he smothered this spark of real interest and turned stolid again.
“Promise me you’ll show me some of your work, Rodrigo.” Seeking to overwhelm his reticence, I put the force of authority in my voice. “I want to see it. I need to judge just how much help you can be to me. I’d like to know if I can hire you as my helper.”
Surprise surfaced momentarily before he got himself under control again. “The priests pay me.”
“They pay you to take care of the premises. I would be paying you to help with this job. You can perform your duties to them and earn something extra for yourself...and your family.” I added the last as a clincher.
“I dunno. Maybe.”
Judging it best to leave matters at that, I returned to my minute examination of the fresco, explaining to the young man what I was looking for and what I was finding.
The threat of rain hung over the mountains that night as I prepared to go to bed...with some trepidation. Would my specter visit tonight, disturbing my rest with that curious mixture of fear and excitement? Had I met him today in the flesh? Was the haughty, aristocratic Father Hidalgo the dark shadow in my dream? But would the bold Hidalgo shirk a physical confrontation after traveling to Albuquerque to see me? He would most likely have marched straight up to me and made his presence known. Or was it gentle Rodrigo, he of the dark beauty so akin to my spectral visitor? That made no sense. Why should either of them seek me out a hundred miles to the south? How would they have even identified me?
No. The mysterious figure who watched me in Albuquerque and from beyond the chasm here in the mountains was not Hidalgo or Rodrigo. He was similar, but not identical to either of these darkly handsome men.
My thoughts turned to my reaction to each of them. After two years of sexual denial, why was I responding to these particular males? Was it as simple as the chemical affinity of pheromones? I had long ago come to accept my homosexuality. I saw nothing wrong with it. Love was love was love. Praised as man’s ultimate achievement throughout the entire world, why should it be wrong when applied to mature adults of the same gender? Simple. It shouldn’t. My love for Leo was not sick or dirty or disgusting. It had been beautiful and fulfilling and right for the two of us. And our libidinal activities were merely the physical expression, the customary outlet for the natural lust kindled by that love.
I accepted, of course, that there were limitations. Early on, I had created my own absolutely inviolate limits. I would not accept the love or the attentions of someone who was bound by a vow. Any sort of a vow. A vow of marriage, a pledge of love...a priestly oath. Then why had I reacted to the powerful presence of Father Hidalgo? I had met a host of handsome, lusty priests in Italy and had been tempted by none. But had this magnetic cleric offered himself, I would certainly have violated a personal rule and fallen victim to my libido.
And Rodrigo? Oblivious to his own sexual attractiveness, the young man exerted an appeal that was difficult to ignore. I sensed there was danger lurking beneath his innocence, and found myself wondering about his sexual partners. Had there been any? Of course, there had. A handsome, healthy male does not achieve the ripe old age of twenty or so without finding physical expression for his desires. Had he been with a man? Or were they all women? Was he pledged? Married?
And then there was that third presence. The mysterious shade that eluded both my tangible and my ethereal touch. Perhaps it was the mystery surrounding this dark stranger that made him the most frightening and desirable of the three. After all, he had watched me stroke myself to an ejaculation. A real one, not an illusory one. At least, the hot, sticky cum was real. Slowly, I succumbed to slumber and slept peacefully through the night.
Rodrigo brought samples of his work the next morning, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. His drawings were well proportioned; his colors, good and strong. The flat primitive figures in his work were balanced with complementary and contrasting colors in interesting ways. The kid had talent. Hiding his pleasure behind a handsome, stolid face, he nodded somberly when I praised the work and agreed to hire him as my helper. He was not quite so bland when I named a salary; the brown eyes widened fractionally.
The boy was a great deal of help and well worth his wages. He saved me time in immeasurable ways, but it was his mere presence that was most comforting. In truth, the gloomy old mission church spooked me. There were countless sightings of shadows that should not be, of a presence in remote corners, occasional assaults on my olfactory senses even though there was no discernible odor. The impression of being observed. A few times, even the placid Rodrigo exhibited an unaccustomed uneasiness.
Concerned about the leak in the ceiling over the fresco in the narthex, I went up on the roof to make certain our daily rain showers were not adding to the problem, but the structural restoration had repaired any leaks. I set up some lights to dry the damp plaster. Rodrigo was weeding the graveyard, so I worked alone this morning. Sensing him behind me, I turned to explain I had to be careful not to dry the spot too quickly, as that would cause the plaster to flake and peel.
There was no one there!
Yet there was. I could sense him in the far corner. A darkness too deep to be natural stirred as I grew aware of it. The hair on my neck and arms rose. My flesh pimpled like a goose’s. Fear dried up my throat.
“Who are you?” I croaked.
I was answered by a sigh...the same as in my dream.
“What do you want?” My voice took on timbre, strength. “Why are you doing this to me?”
The shadow undulated, as though in agitation. Was it angered by my interference? My very presence?
“Look,” I said as reasonably as I could manage. “I won’t be here long. I’m just repairing the ravages of time. Then I’ll be gone, okay?”
A gust whipped through the closed narthex. My nose itched fearfully. My body chilled, and then heated as I responded to an overpowering rush of sexuality. Lust swept through me, weakening my knees, engorging me, fevering my mind. What was happening?
Even as I responded physically, even as my turgid cock pressed against my trousers, the presence retreated. The shadow weakened, but before it faded away completely, I glimpsed the handsome face of my dreams twisted in anguished frustration. Then he was gone.
Giving way to my own fear, I scrambled down the scaffold and rushed out the heavy, carved doors into a weak sunlight, crashing into Rodrigo on the steps.
“What’s the matter?” he cried, concern written across his handsome, beardless face.
“I’m…I’m going to the house for a few minutes,” I gasped, pulling from his grasp and staggering across the muddy distance to the little adobe. I did not realize he had followed until he entered behind me.
“Are you all right?” he asked in the deep voice that couldn’t possibly come from that young larynx. Yet it did.
“Sorry. I just felt…” My voice died away as I turned to face him. Not a yard away, he was almost lost in the gloom of the place. He stood, as my apparition had stood, watching me through old eyes set in a young face. His unconscious masculinity robbed me of my senses, gave me the audacity to match my sudden surge of strength.
Still in the grip of the presence’s sexuality and the strange scent that had no odor, I touched his smooth, dark cheek. My thumb traced the line of his chin. His eyes widened in surprise, but he held still. I placed my hands on either side of his head and drew my thumbs over the fine, curved arch of his eyebrows. I touched his silky lids, endured the tickle of long, curled lashes.
Slowly, I moved my hands down his neck to his shoulders. He made no sound or movement. His mouth was parted, his breath light and feathery on my wrists. My hands roamed of their own accord, exploring the hard biceps, enjoying the satiny flesh of his forearms. Then I clasped him below the armpits and moved along the flared ribs to the waist.
Rodrigo stood frozen, muscles tense and trembling. The buttons to his cotton work shirt were undone in an instant. My fingers touched the hot flesh of his smooth chest. He remained silent as I slid my hands down his belly, detecting hidden muscles. He flinched when I reached his groin, but permitted me my way.
Caressing his manhood delivered me into the power of the overwhelming, mystifying sexuality permeating the atmosphere. I fell to my knees and fought open his fly, revealing a flaccid cock built to Rodrigo’s own scale, its flesh darker than that of his flat belly. Without hesitation, I gently sucked him to an erection. I clawed his clothing down to his knees; my hands cupped the smooth cheeks of his buttocks, clasped the full testicles, played in the hair of his bush as I worked on him. In time a sigh filled the room, not a ghostly gasp, but a worldly expression of pleasure from the comely, sculpted Indian in my grasp. A thick, musky stream of semen hit the roof of my mouth. Rodrigo grunted as his orgasm impacted him, but otherwise he remained as motionless as a statue. Only when he softened did I move away from him to tear open my trousers.
The boy stood with his pants around his ankles and watched me masturbate. I came quickly, excited by this beautiful innocent watching my self-abasement through wide, wondering eyes. With ejaculation, came shame. I had used him. I turned away to clean and cover myself. When I looked again, he was gone, leaving me to wonder if he had merely acquiesced to my demands or willingly participated.
I found him in the nave setting out the materials we would need for the day, acting as though nothing had happened, but avoiding my gaze. It was an hour before I could behave naturally around the achingly handsome young man.
As August passed into September, the monsoon season weakened, bringing only intermittent thundershowers. My diagnosis completed, I started cleaning the main fresco. Rodrigo worked at my side, unknowingly stoking my passion as he moved about his tasks with a natural, manly grace. I took small liberties that I am not even certain he understood: a hand on the shoulder as we stood contemplating something, a lingering touch on the arm as I made a point, a finger on his broad chest to emphasize that point.
Hidalgo appeared a few times, moving almost as silently and mysteriously as my shadowy wraith. His presence continued to disturb me, and when he left, I would look hungrily at Rodrigo, who did not appear to notice.
Other than checking on the drying of the plaster, I did not work on the fresco in the narthex. I first wanted to finish the restoration of the one in the nave, the major work. Normally, I would have tackled the minor piece to learn the peculiarities of a job, but for some reason I was reluctant to take on that one. Perhaps it was because, as John Hoar had said, it was so busy. It was also in greater disrepair. The large one in the nave was less of a challenge; therefore I reversed the learning process.
The cleaning went surprisingly well. Rodrigo’s plodding patience paid off in spades. The tedious care demanded by the work did not bother the youth as much as it did me. Working closely beside him made the tedium slightly more bearable.
I went into Santa Fe one Friday for supplies and tarried over until Saturday morning in order to pick up some of Rodrigo’s paintings I'd had framed as a surprise for him. They looked terrific.
When I handed them over, he appeared more embarrassed than pleased, but I was beginning to understand the boy and knew he was appreciative.
“Do you ever sell them?” I asked.
“Sometimes,” he admitted reluctantly. “At powwows.”
“Great! I’ll give you a hundred dollars apiece for these two.” I pointed out my favorites, one of which was San Pedro, himself.
“Give them to you,” he mumbled.
“No you won’t. You sell your art, you don’t give it away. Deal?”
He ventured to look me in the eye fleetingly. “Deal.”
“Good. I’ll add it to the paycheck next Friday, okay?” He nodded. “Right now, I’m going to go hang them in the shack. Give me a hand?”
He hesitated briefly before nodding.
I don’t think it was a ploy on my part, but it might as well have been. As he stood in front of me straightening a picture after we hung it, I put my hands on his trim hips. He froze.
“Rodrigo,” I gasped, pulling him to me. He leaned quietly against me as my hands encircled him and roamed his body freely. “Oh, God, I want you,” I whispered raggedly. “You are so beautiful.”
The youth allowed me to strip him naked and study his perfectly proportioned body. Rodrigo remained soft, unexcited. I tore off my clothes, pushed him on the bed, and fell on him. He moved his head slightly, causing my lips to brush his smooth cheek, but I turned him to me and thrust my tongue into his mouth. His entire body stiffened, but he suffered this, too. The kiss struck me senseless. I went wild, as mad as I had been after Leo’s death. I kissed and bit and sucked the dark, roseate flesh over the whole of his body. But only when I took him in my mouth, did he respond, his thick, uncircumcised cock growing full length down my throat.
I drew him almost to climax. When his legs went tense and his testicles began to draw up, I rolled over and pulled him atop me. I raised my legs and presented myself to him. When he was in place, I locked my ankles behind him and pulled him into me. Rodrigo entered my channel in one long thrust. Only then did he permit an emotion to cross his handsome features…a look of surprise. Clearly, he had never done this before. Once the astonishment passed, something else flickered in those big eyes. He thrust at me tentatively, and then gaining confidence, he fed the thing growing in him. Desire. Carnal desire.
Once his switch was thrown, Rodrigo fucked like a savage, throwing himself into it with everything he had. He beat against me frantically, as though frightened of what he was doing, but helpless to prevent it…as if in terror of discovery and interruption.
“Easy,” I whispered.
Immediately, he turned amazingly sensitive, brushing my lips with his fingertips, my nipples with his soft lips, pressing my erection against his belly. He settled into a strong, rhythmic thrusting that drove me wild. Long before he was ready, I reached the point of no return. His hard stomach rubbing against my cock brought me home. I grunted, groaned, and spewed. The youth picked up his pace, delivering long, slashing lunges.
Soon, his lids dropped slowly over his eyes, and he came, sowing his seed with the first audible noises of our lovemaking, strange sounds in his native tongue. He could have been calling me a son-of-a-bitching, pansy queer, and it wouldn’t have mattered. The words were beautiful to my ears.
The boy shyly avoided my eyes as he drew out of me and rose to clean himself. Nonetheless, I saw him dart a look at my nakedness as I directed him to a basin of water. When he was dressed, I stopped him with a hand on the arm.
“Stay the night with me, Rodrigo,” I whispered.
He dropped his gaze to the floor. “Can’t,” he mumbled, and was gone.
With his departure, I sensed something, felt something. My nose tingled. Tremendously aroused, I fell back on the bed and masturbated, holding desperately to the image of the boy laboring above me. But as I came, the vision altered, and the formless beauty of that shadowy specter replaced the gentle features of my young lover. The eerie sense of being watched eased, and I knew the shade had departed.
The presence, as I came to regard him, lurked at a distance, remaining in the shadows as work on the main fresco progressed quickly. At night, he teased my dreams on occasion, and even entered them once, but when I became instantly stimulated, he withdrew, fading away in obvious distress. I had lost my fear of him now, although on occasion his appearance would raise the hair on my neck. It was apparent he wanted something, but was unable to communicate it.
As for Rodrigo, dear, sweet, even-tempered Rodrigo, he worked at my side, learning a lot about art restoration in a short period of time. He never initiated anything, but once or twice a week I would grasp his arm, and he would follow me to the adobe shack to fuck me so competently I would be sated for the next few days. He did nothing he would consider unmanly. Ejaculation was never a problem when he fucked me; his stroking my prostate always brought me to the brink, and his belly rubbing against the underside of my cock finished me off. Beautiful.
When Father Hidalgo brought a bishop to review our progress, it reawakened my inexplicable hunger for the priest. He appeared in mufti one day and condescended to help me move a piece of equipment, revealing strong, corded arms and a wisp of black hair at his neckline. Poor Rodrigo had to fuck me twice that night to ease my black longings. Not only that, but I believe the boy had an inkling of my attraction to the churchman.
Upon completion of the work on the fresco in the nave, I stood with a gathering of church officials and received their approval. The job had gone well, I had to admit. The mural looked much as it had when the unknown painter first applied pigments to the fresh plaster almost four hundred years ago. I contemplated that long departed artisan for a few minutes, trying to see St. Peter through his eyes.
A high, keening sigh filled the sanctuary, causing me to whirl around, finding no apparent source. At that moment, the Archbishop of the See of New Mexico and his entourage entered the nave. A tall, reserved man of considerable natural authority, his fresh, Irish face at contrast with the darker countenances of his court, the prelate halted several times during his progress into the auditorium, almost as if he were saying the Twelve Stations. By the time he knelt at the altar to give thanks for the rebirth of his Saint, approval and gratitude were clearly etched on his face. Over his cloaked shoulder, I saw Father Hidalgo glance up with reluctant admiration in his eyes. Instantly and inappropriately, my groin ballooned.
Once congratulations had been offered and accepted, the churchmen departed. Hidalgo lingered only enough to incite me nearly to the point of approaching him openly. The gleam in his dark eyes told me that he understood my attraction. Expecting condemnation, I was surprised to see wry amusement in his eyes as he took his leave.
Rodrigo went to work moving the disassembled scaffolding from the nave into the narthex while I considered the second fresco. If anything, it was more dynamic, more dramatic than the larger painting. In the foreground, San Pedro, still exhibiting obvious Indian blood, suffered his martyrdom in the traditional manner. His cross was inverted; his agony, tangible. Priests and soldiers and Indian shamans and sheep and horses stood at a respectful distance to suffer with their Saint. Above them all, a distant, gentle Jesus looked sadly down upon the crucifixion of his Apostle.
A scrabbling in the corner heralded the puckering of my flesh and the tickling of my nose. The presence was back. He was always stronger in the narthex. Momentarily unable to confront him, I fled into the nave and steadied myself by enjoying the sight of Rodrigo gathering pieces of scaffolding. Hurrying to his side, I grasped the end of a long segment he was struggling to lift and helped carry it into the narthex. The phantom had retired restlessly to the far corner. Warily, I helped my young assistant erect the gigantic tinker toy that would support us as we worked on the fresco, my need for him growing by the moment.
I became distracted and allowed Rodrigo to slip away that evening without calling him to my bed. Anguished, I considered chasing him down in the Toyota, but resisted the urge, realizing as I did so this would be a difficult night. The priests had been here. Accolades had been given, and even Hidalgo had allowed his approval to show. I pictured him as he stood in shirtsleeves that one day, black hairs casting shadows on his forearms, an ebony curl at his chest. His long, lean legs encased in trousers and open to my view for the first time. Immediately, I ached.
My fears were fulfilled. Agitated, aroused, I tossed and turned on my bed, lonely and wracked by a forbidden desire. He appeared the moment I slipped over the edge of tortured sleep. The dark, amorphous presence from another dimension took on definition and light. The cloak and cowl were thrown off. The white of his cotton shirt glowed eerily, unnaturally. Rude cotton trousers were held at the waist with a strong cord. His feet were shod in huaraches, open toed sandals. His being took on the color of the earth and then lightened with a tinge of rose. For the first time, the face clearly appeared in all its manly strength. I gasped, astounded by his incomparable male beauty. The scent without odor assailed me.
He stood before one of Rodrigo’s framed paintings, a ghostly hand moving across the surface and coming to rest in a corner of the frame. Blind to all but my uncontrollable lust, I threw off my covers and lay naked and exposed before him. My hot, erection throbbed in the air. Sensing something different about this dream, about this night, I did not rush to masturbate.
He stood with his finger on the painting while I pulsed with desire. At length, that strange, echoing sigh filled the hut, and he turned to me. Slowly, reluctantly, as though surrendering to inevitability, my specter drew off his rough shirt. The expanse of bronze chest took my breath away. When the pantaloons dropped to the floor, I cried aloud. He was magnificent. Without imperfections.
The phantom caressed my side with a feathery touch. I reached for him…and encountered nothing. Sobbing aloud, I realized I had not the ability to touch him, to enclose him in my arms, to caress him. But he could make contact with me. An insubstantial hand teased my chest, disturbing the hair and raising my nipples. He lay beside me with his head in the hollow of my neck. There was a subtle pressure along the length of my body, a modest heat at the groin where that great cock rested. As the ghostly hand roved my body, I moaned and writhed from ecstasy denied. My engorged cock strained as his spectral fingers closed around it. That non-odor, that heavy, overpowering dose of pheromones overwhelmed me. Disbelieving what was happening, even as a dream, I shot excited seed all over my torso. A single drop seemed to hang for a moment on his diaphanous flesh before slowly dripping onto my side.
Deliriously happy, I stretched and began the journey back into the real world. Frantically, he gestured toward the wall, to the painting. He vanished as I slowly surfaced from the land of dreams, exposed and shivering in the cold night, drenched in cum, and unable to hold onto the fading images. I lay awake the remainder of the night fretting over something beautiful that had escaped me.
I remained abed so long the next morning that Rodrigo came looking for me. I pulled him inside, and lay on my belly with my butt raised for him to assault while I desperately sought to recall my dream. When the boy came , I spewed my own semen all over the covers. We lay for half an hour with his warm body covering me before I made him do it again.
Given the lessons learned on the first fresco, work on the second progressed faster than I had hoped. Things were relatively quiet until the final phase of the work in the narthex, the retouching. Even this, I believed would be expedited because I had existing supplies of the paint elements from the first fresco. As I carefully worked on an agonized St. Peter hanging upside down on his cross, I sensed a presence on the scaffold with me other than Rodrigo, who was carefully retouching the background. He was here, suffering with the Saint, experiencing the pain of the nails, the horror of approaching death. Could my shade be the Saint, himself?
A sudden spasm seized my right hand, causing me to drop my brush and cry aloud. Rodrigo rushed to my side, concern written across his features.
“It’s okay,” I said, rubbing my hand vigorously. “Had a cramp, that’s all. Think I’m going to call it a day.”
“Can I stay and finish this part?” the boy asked, indicating a small area in the upper left corner.
“Yes, but don’t go beyond that point,” I warned. He nodded his understanding as I walked across the scaffold to start down the ladder, assessing what remained to be done as I went. I paused before some of the minor figures and noticed a faint blur of color in the extreme right near the bottom. Adjusting one of the lights so I could see better, I made out the form of a man, but there was not enough left of the original paint to indicate who, or even what he might be. Was he a soldier? A religious figure? One of the Indians proliferating the scene? I could not tell. I’d have to use my imagination on that one, virtually the only part of the original fresco that could not be accurately interpreted.
I did not ask Rodrigo to tarry that evening even though I was sexually restless. A stirring in the woods, the ominous atmosphere in my shack, a hint of odor warned me of the presence and fueled my excitement. After bathing out of a basin and listlessly eating something tasteless, I studied sketches of the fresco for a few moments before turning off the light and going to bed.
“Why don’t you stop screwing around and just tell me what you want?” I said into the darkness. I immediately rued my words. What if it were the Saint, himself? Impossible! He had died half a world away.
He came to me that night, determined to make me understand. It took time for him to find form and definition, and as usual, I became so besotted during the process that I could think of nothing except my desire. He went to one of Rodrigo’s paintings and turned toward me, his shadow luminescent from emotion.
“I’ve looked at the painting,” I wailed, unable or unwilling to concentrate because of my simple-minded lechery. “I don’t understand!” I added, exposing myself and revealing my excitement.
A whirlwind shook the interior of the tiny building. The painting went crooked on the wall and crashed to the floor. If he sought to frighten me, he succeeded. I lost my erection as my skin puckered from a sudden chill. Chastised, I regarded my ghostly visitor through eyes that were unclouded by lust. I crawled from the bed and went naked to pick up the fallen picture. Suddenly curious, I snapped on a flashlight and turned it on the painting. He shrank from the sudden light as I examined the lower right corner where the protoplasmic finger often rested.
“It’s just Rodrigo’s signature. That’s all,” I said impatiently. But a small mark beneath his name caught my eye. “Wait! There’s something else. I can’t make out what it is.”
Ignoring the nighttime chill that had descended upon the hut I rummaged around in my things until I found a magnifying glass. Using that, I could make out several brush strokes that took the form of a small, stylized man tucked just below the lettering.
“What the hell is that?” I asked aloud, moving to the boy’s second painting. The tiny figure was there, as well. “I’ll ask Rodrigo tomorrow,” I said, not knowing whether I was talking to myself or my phantom.
He knew. That skin-puckering sigh filled the room. The figure without form molded against my back, exerting a gentle, comfortable pressure against my naked skin. Contentedly, he held me to him, inflaming me again. Wispy tentacles grasped my rapidly rising cock, and somehow I came in a mighty orgasm without once touching myself. This time there was no fight for consciousness; I realized with a start I was awake, and had been for some time. I remembered it all, everything that had happened...clearly, and in minute, delicious detail. And with that realization, he slowly evaporated from the room, leaving me sated but aching with loneliness. On some level, I recognized this strange shade had attended my need in repayment for my one, brief sincere effort to understand his.
As soon as Rodrigo appeared the next morning, I dragged him into the shack and surprised him by failing to rip off his clothing. Instead, I handed him one of the paintings and pointed to the small figure below his signature.
“What is that?”
“Me,” he replied.
“What?” I asked, a glimmer of understanding flickering through my brain.
“Me,” he repeated. “I put that on all my drawings. I sign it like you’re supposed to, but that’s the white man’s way. You know, his alphabet and all. But that’s the real signature. That’s me.”
“I love you, Rodrigo,” I said, giving him a pat on the back and confusing him completely. “Come on, let’s go to work.” I was suddenly anxious to be back on the scaffold again.
Thoroughly confounded, he gave the bed a quick look before striding out the door. I trailed him to the church, thoroughly enjoying the manly sway of his butt as he walked.
I spent the morning completing the retouch of the crucifixion of St. Peter. I suffered through an impatient lunch, during which Rodrigo sent me strange looks, because of my uncharacteristic silence, I suppose. Once we finished eating, I rushed back up the scaffold and grabbed a clean brush. I again surprised my young companion by ignoring other major figures and going directly to the faint outline in the extreme right corner. Rodrigo held his tongue, but was clearly curious. I ignored him.
Cleaning dust from the faint impression of color, I took up my pigments and lovingly began to paint. I had to fight the impulse to do a two-dimensional portrait, but that would have been horribly out of character with the rest of the fresco. Instead, I followed the outline my augury had revealed to create a figure of substance out of what had been illusion. As I finished, Rodrigo put aside his brush, stretched his back fetchingly, and sauntered to my side. He suddenly froze. Holding my breath, I waited him out.
“It looks just like him!” he breathed in awe.
“You’ve seen him, too?” I asked.
Rodrigo nodded. “You?”
“Daily. He wouldn’t leave me alone. I wasn’t certain you knew about him.”
“For a long time, he scared me to death. I almost quit working here the first day I started, but finally I understood he didn’t want to hurt me. You know who he is?” he asked.
“Yes, but I didn’t until this morning. You told me who he was.”
“Me!” Rodrigo exclaimed.
“He’s the artisan who painted the frescoes,” I replied. He’s the Indian who created all of this beauty.”
“Why did he stay around and…bother us?”
“Haunt us, you mean? Because he wanted to be remembered for what he did. But every time he came to me, I’d get so sexually excited I couldn’t think of anything except finding release. I was so thick-headed, I didn’t understand until you told me about your unusual way of signing your work. Then I knew that’s all he wanted. He wanted his image reproduced so it was recognizable. It was so faded I might have turned it into anything…or erased it entirely.”
Rodrigo gave a shaky laugh. “I thought I was the only one who could see him. Except maybe Father Hidalgo. I think he knows about him.”
I studied the handsome youth as he spoke, and saw him glance at me briefly. Knowing he would never ask the question on his tongue, I answered it anyway.
“Yes, I was obsessed” I admitted. “I was sexually stimulated by a ghost, someone from another dimension, another time. He came to me in my dreams, but I would never pay attention to what he was trying to communicate. I’d just get excited and the whole thing would turn into a wet dream.”
“You…you did it with a ghost?”
“In a way, Rodrigo. But once I knew what he wanted, I came to my senses. You can’t really have sex with a phantom…not truly,” I said slowly, not entirely believing my own words. “But he led me to you, and that is a wondrous thing. Rodrigo, I said something back there in the hut this morning. And I meant it. It wasn’t just a meaningless expression.”
“What?” he played dumb, most likely embarrassed to speak his mind.
“I love you.”
“Can’t!” He paused. “Can you?”
“More than you know, Rodrigo. You’ll never feel about me the way I do about you, but when our work is done here, I hope you’ll come with me. I’ve accepted another restoration in a church in the western part of the state. I’d like you to help me with it. I’ll pay you a living wage, and we can…be together.”
He looked me fully in the eye for the first time. “You want me to keep…doing it to you?”
“Yes,” I chuckled. “I want you to keep doing it to me, Rodrigo. Make love to me. Touch me. Be with me.”
His eyes fell to belt level. He’d had enough of direct confrontation for the moment. “I thought you wanted Father Hidalgo ,” he said quietly.
“I was confused for awhile, but that’s over now. I just want you to tell me you’ll stay with me…at least for this next job.
“Think about it,” he mumbled. Then his eyes snaked back to mine for just a moment. “But we can go do it now…if you want.”
I wanted…very much!
Mark, you are a fantastic writer. As an Albuquerque native, I am extremely proud that you have chosen Albuquerque as your homeReplyDelete
Thanks, guy. I'd answer you personally, but I prefer to do that direct through my email. Alas, I have no email address for you. Nonetheless, hope you see this and realize I responded...as I try to do to everyone.ReplyDelete
Glad you enjoyed the story. Please keep reading...me or anyone. Just read. Of course, I'd be pleased if you read more of my work.
And by the way...Go Albuquerque!
Elysia (Ellie) VorseReplyDelete
I also LOVE this story, which I read a long time ago here and just found again!
Yay! So happy! :) <3
Glad I could make you day, Ellie. I think Augury is one of the better short stories I've written. Glad you agree.ReplyDelete